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17Dec

Good TV for a Change

Another plug for the 11th annual “A Home for the Holidays with Faith Hill” will air Wednesday, December 23 at 8 PM n CBS. The entertainment special will feature celebrities and inspirational stories about foster care adoption. The program is presented in association with the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption and the Children’s Action Network.

Thomas, who was adopted, established the Dave Thomas Foundation in 1992. It is dedicated to dramatically increasing the adoptions of the more than 129,000 children in North America's foster care systems waiting for permanent, loving homes. Through the Foundation’s Wendy's Wonderful Kids (WWK) program, recruiters are working for children in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and throughout Canada. The Adoption Center of Delaware Valley is a WWK agency in the Philadelphia region.

The Children’s Action Network was founded in 1990 by leaders in the entertainment industry committed to using the power of the media to inform the public about the needs of children and to make children a top priority in American life.

The special will include moving performances by five-time Grammy Award winner and Academy of Country Music (ACM) Award winner Faith Hill, who headlines for the second time, Grammy Award-winning singer Mary J. Blige, musician and featured adoptee Michael Franti, Grammy and ACM Award-winning country superstar Reba McEntire, Grammy Award-winning Latin pop singer Shakira and Grammy and ACM Award-winning star Carrie Underwood, among others. Jenna Elfman ("Accidentally on Purpose") and Nia Vardalos ("My Big Fat Greek Wedding") are among the celebrities presenting inspirational stories about adoption.

Jenna Elfman, Nia Vardalos and other celebrities whose lives have been touched by adoption or who are involved with children’s issues, will present story segments about adoptive families. 

14Dec

AdoptAChild

We have found that a large part of what we do is public awareness. Letting people know that there are children waiting for permanent homes in foster care. Letting people know that these children are just children like any others, deserving of love and a family. We have done this for over 30 years through newspaper articles, television, radio broadcasts and websites. Now we are proud to have ventured into mobile communications with an iPhone App. This is a freely available app and can be found through the App Store or click here.

The main goal is to raise public awareness about our mission: there are no unwanted children, just unfound families. We hope to draw more people to our resources, such as our photolistings, our course on adoption from foster care and our forum, AdoptSpeak.org. Overall, we want to find families for all of the children currently waiting for a place to call home. 

11Dec

A Home for the Holidays

Happy Friday Everyone!

I wanted to share a story with you that truly touches my heart and inspires the true meaning of Christmas. Today I attended a team meeting for a teen on my caseload. This teen (whom I will refer to as “Charles”) does not have a family to call his own. What he does have is a support staff that cares for him, and a special friend (whom I will refer to as “Matthew”). Charles and Matthew are in similar situations; both are teenagers in foster care, both were previously living in the same residential placement, but Matthew recently moved into a foster home. Knowing that Charles would not have a family to spend the holidays with, Matthew asked his foster parents if Charles could spend Christmas day with his new foster family. Matthew was so heartfelt and sincere with his request, that his foster parents agreed to have Charles be their guest for the day. Both boys are excited because they will have a home for the holiday.

A Home for the Holidays is presented by the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption and Children's Action Network, and sponsored by Wendy's. Now in its 11th year, the special will feature Faith Hill and include performances by Shakira, Reba McEntire and Carrie Underwood. Nia Vardolos and Jenna Elfman are among the celebrities who will present inspirational stories of extraordinary families formed through foster care adoption.

Please tune in to watch this special event and consider opening up your home, not just for the holidays, but everyday, by adopting a child from foster care. 

7Dec

Academic Success

According to studies, almost 800,000 children in the United States spend time in foster care each year. These children may change foster homes once or twice a year. Often these moves mean also changing schools. Because of this, it can be hard for them to make significant educational progress. Frequently, they experience delays in enrolling in a new school or difficulties in transferring credits from one school to another. As a result, many foster children lag behind their classmates, lose hope and drop out of school.

To address this problem, in 2008 Congress enacted the Fostering Connections to Success Act—a child welfare law, which, among other things, aims to improve the school stability of foster children. On November 19, 2009 U.S. Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) and Al Franken (D-MN) introduced a bill providing additional resources:

Fostering Success in Education Act, promoting school stability and success for foster children by:

• Forbidding states from segregating foster children by forcing them to attend separate, and often inferior schools, unless it is documented that particular foster children have disabilities that must be addressed in alternative educational settings under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

• Requiring each state Department of Education to designate a foster care coordinator to collaborate with the state child welfare agency.

• Requiring states to create a process for resolving disputes about whether it is in a foster child’s best interest to remain in a particular school after moving to a new school district.

• Requiring states to develop systems to ensure that foster children can transfer and recover credits when they change schools, and that foster children who have attended multiple high schools with different graduation requirements can graduate.

• Providing states, school districts, and child welfare agencies with funding to improve the educational stability of foster children.

In Philadelphia a charter school for high school students who are involved in the foster care system opened this year. Arise Academyseeks to offer rigorous academics along with the social supports needed by these students. Both of these programs show the importance of ensuring that all of our children have a chance to get a good education.

2Dec

Public Hearings - Philadelphia Foster Care

While everyone is recovering from Thanksgiving and making preparations for the holidays, the Adoption Center is planning for critically important Public Hearings. We have been asked to testify before the Joint Committee on Public Health and Human Services and Legislative Oversight on adoption and foster care policies and programs in the City of Philadelphia. We hope to explore ways to improve the process by decreasing wait times, implementing strategies to reduce the number of children that age out of the system and address concerns that discourage people from considering adoption.

The hearing will occur on Tuesday December 15 at 10:00AM in Philadelphia City Council Chambers (City Hall Room 400).

Staff, volunteers, and adoptive parents representing the National Adoption Center/Adoption Center of Delaware Valley will provide testimony as to their experiences with “the system” and recommending changes that would help expedite increased adoptions of our most vulnerable children and youth.

We invite you to be present at these hearings. If you cannot attend, we encourage you to write a letter/e-mail describing your own experiences, or those of someone you know along with any recommendations you may have. Please send your correspondence directly to me and it will be distributed to the Committee prior to the hearings.

In Pennsylvania alone there are 20,000 children in foster care with an average stay of more then 2 years (and sometimes as many as 6) in multiple homes. Every year more then 1,000 “age out” without a permanent family. Please send us your thoughts (email to nac@adopt.org) to include in the meeting. You may also leave any comments in the comments section below. We’ll provide an update in January. 

30Nov

Celebrations for All

Last week in the US we celebrated Thanksgiving. Traditionally this is the kickoff to the holiday season and the many celebrations held at this time of year. Whatever your background, most of the celebrations revolve around family and home. It goes without saying that for some this can be a very difficult time of year. For us, this time of year serves to reinforce our mission -- that all children deserve a family, not just at holiday time, but all year long. 

Here we decided to celebrate Thanksgiving with our “NAC family” and have lunch together this year. We all contributed a dish and there was a cornucopia of good food to share and enjoy. We also shared our thoughts about what we were thankful for this year. Most of us shared their thanks for family, friends and co-workers and their satisfaction with the work we do for on behalf of children and families. You can visit our social network, AdoptSpeak, at www.adopt.org to see photos of our Thanksgiving. From our “NAC family” to yours, we wish you a very holiday season full of peace and joy. 

17Nov

Book Review: Water Steps

Water Steps
by A. LaFaye
for ages 8-12

Eleven-year-old Kyna is terrified of water and with good reason. When she was only three, she and her family were caught in a torrential downpour that capsized their boat. The only survivor of the storm, Kyna was rescued by Mem and Pep, an Irish couple, who later adopted her and raised her as their own. Overwhelmed by fear of water and everything associated with it, Kyna couldn’t even go for a swim. Even water touching her skin provoked an anxiety attack.

Mem and Pep loved everything about the water and tried very hard to help her take small steps—water steps--over the years to overcome her fear. This summer Mem and Pep decide she is ready to take the final step and rent a cabin on Lake Champlain for the summer. Kyna desperately protests but she has no choice but to go with them. She has no memory of her birth family, but during the summer she realizes that her fear is keeping her from these memories and from her adoptive family’s love of water. She also learns that among the tales told her by her Irish parents are clues to her original parents’ secret.

Filled with delightful Irish tales about silkies (seals by day, men and women at night), leprechauns and fairies, Water Steps has much to offer youngsters struggling to overcome their own fears and to anyone fascinated by myths and fantasies. 

13Nov

Wendy's Wonderful Kids Spotlight – Jowelle

This Friday, I wanted to highlight one of my favorite Wendy’s Wonderful Kids, Jowelle. It is always a pleasure to visit Jowelle each month and get caught up on the latest news about her friends, school life, and what is going on in her foster home. A typical 12-year-old, she enjoys music, movies, playing on the computer, and hanging out with friends. Jowelle is one of the most athletic girls I have worked with. She is on her school’s field hockey team, and hopes to also be on the basketball and softball teams later this year. I was able to go to one of Jowelle’s field hockey games, and got to see her in action (her team won of course)!

Jowelle has big dreams about her future. She thinks she will become a lawyer one day, because she is good at winning arguments! Jowelle is working hard to be on the honor roll this year, and so far it looks like she might be able to reach this goal.

Jowelle is looking forward to being adopted. She has no preferences about her future family’s race, religion, or composition, just as long as they are "young, active, and nice"! She imagines herself going shopping and to the movies with her Forever Family. She is also looking forward to celebrating holidays together, and being a normal family.

If you would like to find out more information about Jowelle, or any of the Wendy’s Wonderful Kids of Delaware, please feel free to contact me. I can be reached at 215-735-9988 ext. 319 or by email atacressman@adopt.org. Have a great weekend! 

9Nov

Adoptive Family Portrait Project

o celebrate National Adoption Month, Voice for Adoption runs the Adoptive Family Portrait Project. Today, framed photos and stories about adoptive families will be displayed in Washington, DC. These portraits are then given to each Congressional office where it is to be displayed with the goal is to raise awareness of both the joys and challenges that families experience by adopting children from foster care.

Here is the story we shared with Senator Specter about the Clark family. We've included the questionnaire in it's entirety at it's an important story to share.

Children’s names, ages, and descriptions (background/time in foster care, age when adopted if applicable, personalities, hobbies, special needs, etc.):

Javaun is now 12 years old. He was in foster care for three and a half years after the death of their mother from cancer and abandonment by his biological father. Javaun was adopted on June 19, 2009 ten days after he turned 12. He is very popular boy in school and out. He is very outgoing and friendly now, but initially was shy. He is video game enthusiast and loved cartoons. He has a healthy appetite and loves cheese pizza. He dreams of becoming a football player. His goal is to good grades to allow him to play little league football. Having been raised in a female led foster home, what Javaun truly needed was a supportive father figure in his life.

Saymere is now 7 years old. He will soon turn eight in November 11, 2001. He too was in foster care for three and half years after the death of their mother from cancer and abandonment by his biological father. Saymere was seven years old when he was adopted. Saymere is a shy boy, but will open up when he gets to know you. He is well known in school and currently in an advanced second grade class. Saymere likes to read. He likes to also draw superhero characters. Once an avid Iron Man fan, he now proudly has a GI Joe book bag. Saymere has benefited from having a strong male presence and has come to understand what it means to be apart of a forever family.

What motivated you to adopt?

My mother died suddenly when I was 17 leaving me to look after a then 9-year-old sister. My grandmother was on record as our legal guardian, but she had a stroke six weeks after my mother passed away and was in no condition to care for us. I put myself through school and took on the task of raising my sister on my own. Raising my sister was hard, but in my heart, I always wanted a son.

I had grown up with only my grandfather to look to as a role model for what a father was supposed to be. You see the man I had come to know as my grandfather, Robert Luckey, actually met my grandmother shortly before I was born. He became my inspiration as well in knowing that he took on the challenge of raising my grandmother’s eight sons and three daughters, when her first husband decided he would not. He never once said no when we were in need and was always there to lend a friendly ear or a helping hand.

My grandfather was there to bring me home from the hospital and when my own father chose not to be a part of my life, he showed me how to be a man in a world he didn’t even have a hand in bringing me to. I soon learned family is not based on blood but it is based on the love you have for the person you have in your lives.

As a teacher, I have worked with many students who are in foster care and who may have been adopted. When I first looked seriously at adopting one of the children turned up in my school. As fate would have it, he was assigned to me to be a mentor. However, all attempts I made to see about adopting him were met with deaf ears.

Apparently, he had turned 12 and social workers change the goal for children when they turn 12 from adoption to finding permanent legal custody. This did not deter me; it only strengthened my resolve to welcome a child into my home. Raising my boys now, I have decided that they would not be the last children I welcome in my family.

What recruitment efforts or campaigns, if any, were effective in helping you decide to adopt a child from foster care?

I attended several match parties sponsored by the National Adoption Center. They have always been supportive in my efforts to adopt even when I did not have my profile completed. I also watched the NBC 10 Wednesday Child Specials. In addition, my girlfriend donated money to the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption. I had watched their “Home For The Holidays” special.

What role have post-adoption services played in making it possible for you to adopt and meet your children’s needs? Please describe the post-adoption services and support you have used and how they help your family.

I have attempted to get tutoring for my son to no avail. My agency was less than supportive in my efforts to adopt and I have not heard from them since. Even on the day my boys were being adopted, they were at the courthouse to support another family and did not even know that I had gotten a finalization date.

What in your opinion makes your family unique? Please explain.

I am a single father raising two sons. At a time when men are being blamed for the breakdown of the traditional family, I chose an alternative route to starting mine. At times, this can be a challenge because you go through all the usual challenges of a family, but it is harder when it is only one parent. I think I hear Dad a hundred times a day.

By the grace of God, a co-worker recommended me to an excellent after school program the supports me as a parent. They have extended hours, they pick up my sons on half days and keep them on the days when teachers report, and students do not.

What challenges, if any, has your family experienced through adoption?

I think the major challenge that my family has faced is the lack of support from the adoption agencies. I would like to sing their praises and say my agency supported me but they did not. I had to write a letter to the Philadelphia Department of Human Services’ acting Commissioner to get my profile completed. Even then, I went through three workers before my adoption was finalized. This was a challenge unto itself because this allowed my clearances to lapse, which held up the procedures.

What do you think is most important for members of Congress to understand about adoptive families and adopting children from foster care?

I would like Congress to simplify the process. I did not mind the hurdles to become certified as adoptive parent, for example, the fingerprints, the clearances, the mountains of paperwork. Since I started the adoption process in 2005, I have watched children age out of the system and once viable forever families become discouraged by all of the red tape.

Who will be there when these children graduate or when they go their senior prom? Where will they spend Christmas or Thanksgiving? Who is going to be there when they start a conversation as my youngest son does, “Don’t you know?”

Then, there are the workers who are not concerned with finding a family for these children. They are more concerned with keeping a job by shifting them from one home to the next. As a teacher, I am often accused of wearing my heart on my sleeve because I treat each child as I would treat my own. Maybe some social workers need to start to do that.

Is there a quote, artwork, poem, or a letter to your Congressman that your children would like to submit about their adoption experience?

Javaun says “In my family, I feel like I am a part of something. You can look forward to your future. It’s exciting to be adopted because somebody loves you and cares for you.”

Saymere says, “I feel happy. I finally get to get somewhere where it is right. I just like it here and I want to stay.” 

6Nov

Adoption Fraud

Recently, a Long Island attorney promised a couple desperate for a baby that he could find an infant for them. The cost, he said, would be $65,000 which the couple handed over happily—a small price, they thought, for the baby they wanted so much.

Unfortunately, there was no baby, just a money-making scheme for the attorney.

We understand how logic and reason can become elusive when an infant seems close enough to touch. However, we caution would-be parents to be wary. It is best to deal with a licensed adoption agency, if possible. 

If you are working with an attorney or other intermediary, ask questions. Where is this baby coming from? Who are the parents? Will or have both mother and father relinquished rights to the baby? What do the laws of the state in which the papers were signed say about a parent changing his or her mind? Have the birth parents been counseled so that they are making their decisions thoughtfully and will not change their mind? What is the baby’s health status? When can you see the baby? A trip to another state, if necessary, can save a lot of angst. And, most important, do not allow money to leave your hands until you have actually seen the baby. 

Following these suggestions can help you avoid the heartache experienced by the couple for whom, it turned out, there was no baby. 

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